What is belief? What distinguishes knowledge? What happens when people fail to differentiate between the two?
We get the consecutive epistemic crises of a Trump presidency and the post-Trump disinformation universe.
First let me give credit to American philosopher and good friend Bob O. for exposing me to grandiloquent words such as epistemic, and for encouraging me to distill my analysis of (and war against) disinformation to this juxtaposition: belief vs. knowledge.
Here are some examples:
BELIEF: The coronavirus is not serious and soon will disappear on its own. The media has exaggerated this so-called crisis to hurt the Trump administration. I believe because President Trump, Fox News, and my pastor told me so.
KNOWLEDGE: The coronavirus is deadly serious and will not go away on its own. It will require ferocious government action and prevention efforts to be controlled and arrested. I know because Dr. Fauci along with the CDC, FDA, WHO, and vast majority of all nonpartisan (and conservative) infectious disease experts in the country have determined this through scientific research and experience.
BELIEF: Joe Biden stole the 2020 presidential election through massive voter fraud. I believe because President Trump, Fox News, and my pastor told me so.
KNOWLEDGE: Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election in a fair, secure electoral process. I know because 100% of 62 American court cases (including cases heard by the U.S. and some state Supreme Courts) along with the FBI, Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, and vast majority of all nonpartisan (and most conservative) electoral experts in the country have determined this through legal and scientific investigation.
What happens when people confuse belief and knowledge?
We get 500,000 (to date) American COVID-19 deaths that easily could have been reduced by half* — because knowledge was confused with, and overwhelmed by, (false) belief spread by dishonest rhetors. This depressed competent government action and citizen compliance with health guidelines. This turned the defiance of common sense prevention efforts into support for Donald Trump.
We get a deadly insurrectionist attack on our Capitol building (the first breach since 1814), which killed seven, terrorized hundreds (including rioters calling for the assassinations of Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi), and endangered our democracy — because knowledge was confused with, and overwhelmed by, (false) belief spread by dishonest rhetors. This caused almost half the electorate to believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen. This turned support for and participation in a violent attack on Congress into support for Donald Trump.
Denouement: 2nd Trump Impeachment Trial
This is my epilogue, my wrap-up to almost four years of weekly commentary on the Trump presidency. A summary like this must include mention of the second Donald Trump impeachment trial, which was based upon one article of “Incitement of Insurrection.” I’ll provide here only the highest of highlights to refresh memories. I strongly recommend also pursuing a more in-depth, nonpartisan* recounting of the relatively short five-day trial, perhaps even reviewing the official summary of the video record. [*Obvious Alert: I don’t like Donald Trump, though I always strive for factual accuracy.]
Most Democrats, independents, and reasonable (anti-Trump) Republicans agree there were two primary reasons to conduct the impeachment trial despite knowing a conviction — requiring 17 GOP senators to join all 50 Democratic senators — was extremely unlikely:
1) It would create a detailed historical record of the actions and events leading up to, during, and after the Insurrection of January 6. The record otherwise might have been diminished or distorted.
2) It would force all senators to go on record as supporting or not supporting then-President Trump’s efforts (namely, perpetuating the Big Lie of massive election fraud) to incite an attack on the Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of Electoral College votes, the final step in declaring Joe Biden the winner of the 2020 presidential election.
By overwhelming judgment from Democrats and most Republicans, the general consensus was that the House Managers put on a brilliant prosecution and proved Mr. Trump’s “Incitement of Insurrection” far beyond any doubt.
The other consensus was that the defense did a poor job, bungling its case with meandering, unprepared arguments and mendacious obfuscation. Donald was reported to have been furious at the performance after Day 1 opening arguments. The three defense team members were no-name attorneys, all that Donald could get after being refused by the first-, second-, and third-string litigators in the field of constitutional law.
Lead House Manager Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said, “Former president Trump may not know a lot about the Framers [of the Constitution], but they certainly knew a lot about him [in planning for a rogue president].”
The defense lawyers raised their voices, pounded the lectern, feigned indignance, lied about the law, and said, “Nah-ahh.”
Senate Vote, Feb. 13
Ultimately the vote was 57-43 to convict, a healthy majority but not the supermajority of two-thirds required by the Constitution. Seven Republican senators voted with Democrats (which were a few more than expected): Romney, Sasse, Toomey, Collins, Murkowski, Cassidy, and Burr. Most of the other GOP senators based their vote to acquit on the procedural argument, that trying a president after he’s out of office is unconstitutional. Never mind that a co-founder of the Federalist Society — and a multitude of other conservative constitutional scholars — said they were wrong.
The biggest surprise of the day was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) statements in the second half of his speech from the chamber floor, Feb. 13, immediately after the verdict came in.
First, he defended his vote to acquit on procedural grounds, which was no surprise (even though he single-handedly delayed the trial, as then-Senate leader, until after Trump was out of office). He had always intended to acquit on that basis. It’s clear to me that when Mitch floated the possibility of supporting impeachment in the days after Jan. 6, this was simply a ploy to pressure Trump into behaving for the last 1 ½ weeks of his term, lest McConnell be forced to consider drastic action.
But then Sen. McConnell proceeded to say what he really thought of the “former guy”:
“Former president Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty. … There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day. … The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president. And their having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories, and reckless hyperbole, which the defeated president kept shouting into the largest megaphone on planet Earth. … This was an intensifying crescendo of conspiracy theories, orchestrated by an outgoing president who seemed determined to either overturn the voters’ decision or else torch our institutions on the way out. The unconscionable behavior did not end when the violence began. … President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office, as an ordinary citizen. Unless the statute of limitations has run, [he’s] still liable for everything he did while in office. [He] didn’t get away with anything yet – yet. We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being held accountable by either one.”
In the days following the trial, another dozen or so GOP senators made statements indicating Trumpian culpability in the insurrection, albeit, not as intense as Mitch’s words. Many pundits from both sides speculated that had this been a secret vote, Trump would have been convicted easily. Most Republican senators want Trump out of their party and banned from future office. But they can’t say it (or vote it) publicly for fear of losing their seat in their next election.
Why did Republican senators hang their hats on the constitutional technicality, even though it effectively was proved not applicable? To ride the fence. Aside from the seven with some semblance of integrity, they almost all were afraid of crossing Trump’s base of supporters by voting to convict. But they also were afraid of reasonable (anti-Trump) GOP and independent voters — and history. If they appeared to support the traitorous incitement of insurrection by a corrupt, incompetent, amoral president, that also is not good for electability — or personal legacies.
What’s an invertebrate Republican senator to do? A vote to acquit on a procedural (false) technicality was their ticket out of Dodge for the moment. But their future is yet to be determined.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Donald Trump was an aggressive cancerous tumor in the liver of American democracy. The 2020 election of President Joe Biden excised the tumor, but the cancer had metastasized long before. Lying by high- and low-level GOP government officials has gone from exception to excepted rule. Trump supporters all know he lies nonstop. But they like this about him or think it necessary to his good works. Conspiracy theory proliferation has gone mainstream, to the point of several Republican representatives getting elected to the House on the strength of their conspiracy theory-ing, not in spite of it. And GOP House leaders are afraid to rein them in, afraid of their supporters, afraid of being primary-ed in the next election.
A thirty-something co-worker of mine thinks all the online doctored videos of Joe Biden slurring his words are accurate indications of dementia. He thinks the coronavirus pandemic is largely overblown, mostly a hoax. Oh, and it’s total myth that Black people are treated worse, statistically, by police — this has been completely disproved “online.”
A neighbor’s daughter in college thinks antifa is planning to destroy our suburbs with organized violent protests: “I’ve just seen too many videos.” She thinks the footage at food banks of mile-long lines of cars filled with people who’ve lost their jobs to the pandemic is just an example of “low-lifes not planning for the future.”
A friend’s twenty-something cousin perpetuates COVID-19 vaccine conspiracy videos, complete with a “doctor” speaking earnestly about how the vaccines 1) are unnecessary, 2) cause disease, and 3) are a way for the government to “track and control you.” Oh, and this “doctor” is peddling a cockamamie cure for COVID that has been denounced by all legitimate experts — “but the government doesn’t want you to know about it.”
My favorite online cartoon (some use the misnomer “meme”) is one in which a guy is sitting at his computer surfing the internet. Excitedly he yells to his wife, “Honey, come quick. I’ve found something that all the experts, scientists, and doctors have overlooked!”
Independent Thought Is on Life-Support
All Trump-supporting politicians, clergy members, and parents are to blame. When they deny things they know and wish not to be true, they are to blame. When they deny the veracity of legitimate information sources simply because they’re told to, they are to blame. By their standards of thinking, all truth is deniable, and all propaganda is believable.
Young people already had communication and thinking obstacles to overcome by being born into the social media age. For far too many, any vestiges of critically thoughtful communication and information-gathering skills have evaporated in the era of Trump.
Republicans bristle at the word deprogram as it applies to cultish MAGA thinking. But the word is no exaggeration. I’m deeply concerned about the future of American thought. The neighbors’ kids and my friends’ young cousins will be in leadership roles someday. This scare the hell out of me.
Let me beat my favorite dead horse into the ground one last time: We must develop a required K-12 critical thinking curriculum geared toward 21st-century digital information sources and social media. It might be too late for many (most?) millennials, let alone their parents. But if we start now, we can help to ensure the next generation learns how to think critically about information sources, how to differentiate between belief and knowledge.
Political Parties in the 21st Century
Many pundits on both sides believe the GOP is headed for a split, effectively or literally. After Trump’s second impeachment trial, they point to Mitch McConnell’s statement impaling the former president by encouraging the justice system to deal with him and his crimes. It’s well-known that McConnell loathes the man, Donald Trump, and many of his policies. Mitch put up with Donald for four years because 1) he had no choice and 2) he was willing to make the proverbial Faustian deal: He supported the corrupt, incompetent, amoral president in exchange for tax cuts, judges, and power.
Now that Trump is out of office, we can hope he’ll be consumed with eternal legal battles, bankrupting financial penalties, and possible jail time (or at least a little ankle bracelet duty). The plenitude of suspected or alleged Trumpian crimes is legend. In an SNL comedy skit during the Mueller investigation, little pajama-clad Eric Trump, shivering with fear in bed while clutching his Batman sheets, said to the boogeyman in his bedroom, Robert Mueller, “My dad says you’re the worst thing that’s ever happened to him.” Robert De Niro’s Mueller character responds, “Noooo, the worst thing that ever happened to your dad is becoming president.”
Senate Minority Leader McConnell realizes the party is doomed if it remains in lockstep with The Donald now that he’s out of power. But the conventional wisdom is that Mitch calculated he had to vote to acquit (negating the possibility of banning Trump from future office) because if he opposed the majority of his caucus, he would no longer be able to lead his caucus. So the Republican leader split the baby: He voted to acquit Mr. Trump on a (false) technicality to keep MAGA supporters at bay. But then he roasted the former president on a spit by condemning Trump’s actions, to bring back the reasonable (anti-Trump) GOP donors and supporters he desperately needs to regain power.
There are effectively three political parties in America right now: Democrats, Pro-Trump Republicans, and Anti-Trump Republicans. This is good for Democrats because it splits the opposition vote. It’s bad for anti-Trump Republicans because they are a traditional conservative rowboat surrounded by a depraved GOP flotilla.
Wherever the Republican Party ends up, Why not consider the better alternative?
Republicans: Party of Lincoln? — What’s Makes a Modern Democrat?
Today’s Democrat, for all her party’s faults, embraces the continuous moral arc of support for equality, diversity, truth, the earth, the worker, the (biblical) stranger, freedom of (any) religion or no religion, a cultural safety net, and an ethical government that works for the people.
Republicans love to say things like, “The Republican Party is the party of Lincoln, and the Democratic Party fostered slavery and the KKK in the past.” Those things are true. But party identification is ephemeral. Liberal and conservative philosophies are consistent, and that’s what matters.
I am a liberal. Had I lived in Lincoln’s time, I would have been a Republican rabidly supporting abolition. Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, and Donald Trump, “conservatives,” would have been Democrats fighting Lincoln and supporting “states’ rights,” supporting their right to own other human beings. I fiercely would have opposed Lincoln’s vice president (compromise candidate, half of the “National Union” ticket, then president), Democrat Andrew Johnson, whose corruption was manifest in his entrenched racism, sabotage of Reconstruction, tacit approval of the KKK, and opposition to citizenship for former slaves.
If I’d been alive during Democratic President Andrew Jackson’s day, I, as a liberal, would have been a supporter of the Whig or Anti-Jacksonian Party, vehemently opposing his Indian relocation policies, phony populism, and autocratic attempts to expand executive power. Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, and Donald Trump, “conservatives,” would have been Jackson enthusiasts. This is why President Trump had a portrait of (Democrat) Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office and no portrait of (Republican) Abraham Lincoln.
And during the 1960s, I would have been a Democrat supporting the work of two presidential champions of civil rights, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson — but not supporting the ideology of Southern Democrats, aka “Dixiecrats.”
Throughout history, I might have been a Republican, Democrat, Whig, or some independent combination, depending upon the decade. But I always would have been a liberal, as I am today — embracing the continuous moral arc of support for equality, diversity, truth, the earth, the worker, the (biblical) stranger, freedom of (any) religion or no religion, a cultural safety net, and an ethical government that works for the people.
Today, Republicans are light-years of morality and integrity away from where they were in Lincoln’s time. And today, the liberals are Democrats.
Why believe in the depraved cult of Trumpism? You can know that the Democratic Party of today, for all its faults, is the party consistently endeavoring to help all people.
— In his first month as president, Joe Biden is tackling the COVID-19 pandemic with competence, determination, humanity, and the full force of government.
— America surpassed the 500,000 coronavirus death mark. At least half that number of lives could have been saved if former president Trump hadn’t variously (callously) ignored, ridiculed, and downplayed the pandemic, thinking this approach would help his reelection.
— President Joe Biden conducted a moving pandemic deaths memorial for the nation (which his predecessor never did). Mr. Trump will appear at the Conservative Political Action Conference this week to reaffirm the COVID hoax and continue attempts to reverse his stolen election loss.
— Even though the Lone Star State didn’t vote for him, President Joe Biden is sending immediate disaster aid to Texas after its deregulation-induced statewide electrical grid failure. The power outage crisis has caused dozens of deaths along with massive water shortages and property damage.
— Former president Donald J. Trump announces he’ll be unveiling his national health care plan very soon, right after Infrastructure Week (— writer’s embellishment). ■
2/06/2020 — U.S.: 1 | World: 620
2/23/2021 — U.S.: 500,441 | World: 2,476,387
Conservatively estimated Trump malfeasance deaths: 250,221 (50% of total U.S. deaths)*
The United States accounts for 4.2% of Earth’s population, 20% of world COVID-19 deaths.*
*(Redlener, Irwin, MD, Columbia University National Center for Disaster Preparedness director; MSNBC’s Deadline: White House; 10/1/2020.) (Gupta, Vin, MD, MPA, MSc, University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation professor, global health policy expert; “Dr. Vin Gupta: 70% of Lives Could Have Been Saved if Trump Acted on COVID-19 Earlier”; MSNBC.com; 9/23/2020.) (Glanz, James & Robertson, Campbell; “Lockdown Delays Cost at Least 36,000 Lives, [Columbia University] Data Show”; The New York Times; 5/20/2020.) (as conservatively extrapolated from COVID-19 Dashboard by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University; 11/12/2020.)
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